This page is an English translation of my original work, written in French. If you spot some mistakes, typos, or inappropriate content for English-speaking folks, please let me know. Thanks!
I’m an advocate of radical alternamerism and the alternumeric transformation of organizations and societies. I extend this reflection in several articles on this page.
Table of content
- Theoretical concepts
- Other resources on the same theme
Manifesto for a radical alter-digitalism
Radical alter-digitalism aims to develop an acceptable digital world: socially and ecologically sustainable, emancipating rather than alienating, chosen rather than suffered.
Radical alter-digitalism incorporates into its vision the need to halt the unbridled digitization of the world, and the denumerization of some technologies, tools, equipment, processes. An “other digitalism” is sometimes no digital at all.
Radical alter-digitalism aims to design and implement democratic processes (consultations, debates, discussions, citizens’ convention, voting processes) to collectively decide on acceptable digital futures, in relation to the world’s ecological and social limits. It’s only on a political scale that acceptable digital futures, and a more sober and resilient society, can be decided upon and really see the light of day.
Radical alter-digitalism rejects all techno-solutionism. Digital technology cannot and will not solve anything, neither the current problems of digital technology, nor the ecological crisis, democracy, conflicts between countries.
Radical alter-digitalism is aware that digital technology amplifies multiple social inequalities, but for all that, it doesn’t confuse the amplifier with the cause. Digital technology has not created violence, social inequalities or power relations. But it amplifies them, and sometimes transforms them. What’s more, like many other industries, digital technology relies on a whole sector that meticulously and deliberately exploits the living.
Radical alter-digitalism aspires to a profound critique of digital technologies, without lapsing into a reactionary rhetoric that would suggest that “everything was better before”.
Radical alter-digitalism is not technocentric. It sees and defines itself at the crossroads and in the service of many other struggles: anti-capitalism, feminism, anti-racism (and all struggles for equality and against discrimination), social justice, ecology… Similarly, a Radical alter-digitalism will not happen without a profound transformation of political and economic systems.
An alternative digital
On what dimensions can we recognize, and a fortiori choose, a digital alternative? Liberals will swear by the open source nature of the program, ecologists will swear by its sobriety, privacy advocates will swear by data encryption, etc. But doesn’t a digital alternative need to be a little bit of everything? But doesn’t a digital alternative need to be a little bit of all that?
This is how I structure the different dimensions of a digital alternative today. It is according to each of them that I try to make the most adapted choices to my situations.
- The free and open source dimension: the opening, at least partially, of the computer code to be able to understand its functioning at least.
- The ecological dimension: the durability of hardware, the sobriety of computer code (low code, no code, low tech).
- The economic dimension: the economic model is fair, it allows contributors to live correctly.
- The privacy and personal data protection dimension: the digital alternative seeks “privacy by design”, hardware and software that respect our personal data, capture as little as possible and store it for as little time as possible. The digital alternative works to encrypt as much data as possible.
- The inclusive dimension: the digital alternative strives to create accessible, ergonomic and egalitarian tools. It integrates that digital technologies tend to reinforce all social, economic and cultural inequalities.
- The user-friendly dimension: the digital alternative strives to be user-friendly, does not create unnecessary dependency (captology), does not impose a closed ecosystem (interoperability). The digital alternative widens the personal scope of action, it does not narrow it.
- The ethical dimension: the digital alternative is built in ethical conditions, respect for people (employees, customers, suppliers), respect for the law (paying taxes in the countries where we generate sales, for example), respect for morality.
The first digital alternative is also the non-digital choice. There is no need to struggle to find the perfect digital tool, when the non-digital tool works. Sometimes also, finding the perfect digital tool is impossible (e.g. security, or absolute privacy, do not exist in a digital world).
An acceptable digital
In the line of André Gorz and Ivan Illich, here is a draft of what I think an acceptable digital world consists of. For if the digital is a total social fact, it is also the sum of a set of “things” that are more or less useful, desirable and sustainable.
We need to politicize technical and technological choices, and for that, it is useful to have decision support tools. This reflection is by no means complete, I know that other models exist and I will go and dig them up. Your comments and feedback are welcome as always.
André Gorz: “Only that which is good for all is worthy of you. Only that which neither privileges nor demeans anyone deserves to be produced. We can be happier with less opulence, because in a society without privilege, there are no poor people.
Ivan Illich: “The right tool meets three requirements: it generates efficiency without degrading personal autonomy, it does not create slaves or masters, it widens the range of personal action”.
Drawing made on Diagrams (formerly Draw.io), another great and entirely free online tool.
We sometimes talk about digital hygiene. It would be the fact of becoming aware of the digital ecosystem that we use on a daily basis, of trying to understand its economic model, its functioning, etc.
Digital emancipation goes one step further: it invites us to take back control of our digital ecosystem, to gain independence, control and understanding. To not only be shaped by the digital tool, but to shape it in turn. So where do we start to take back control? Here are a few tracks in this file:
- Avoid the most toxic platforms
- Learn how to host your own web services
- Reinventing web exploration
- Protecting your privacy and security
- Find alternative software and services
- Continue to be informed, curious, debate, vote
Avoid the most toxic platforms
I consider some digital platforms as toxic. The adjective is strong, I know, and perhaps inappropriate. But I can’t think of a better way to describe platforms whose algorithms and design knowingly create aggressiveness, misinformation, or even discomfort. These platforms are mostly based on an advertising model, and thus on data capture (surveillance capitalism) and the attention economy.
I don’t believe that these platforms can really transform themselves, unless they are very powerfully regulated. In the meantime, my advice is to avoid them, to reduce one’s dependence on them, or even to boycott them.
- How to delete your Instagram account (Numerama)
- How to permanently delete a Facebook account (Numerama)
- justdelete.me: a list of direct links to delete your accounts from most web services
An ethical digital
Have you ever wondered about the ethical issues surrounding a web service? There are many! Often they intersect, sometimes they contradict each other. Here are some of them, in no particular order.
The centralization of the Internet and the Web. The Internet was built to be a decentralized system: each computer is connected to others and can host data, which creates a theoretically very resilient system. Because if one computer goes down, there are billions of others. But our dependence on very large players has led the Internet to become more centralized. An example: if Google was not accessible for even an hour, most Internet users would not be able to browse the web.
Environmental issues. Web services pollute as much as other services. They consume energy, are hosted in datacenters that require rare metals whose extraction is very polluting, etc.
Surveillance capitalism1 and the attention economy2. The web services of the big platforms are mostly built around the advertising business model. Simply put: they siphon off our data, do everything to capture our attention, and shape our vision of the world.
Digital and network sovereignty3 “This means giving preference to services hosted in France and in Europe rather than in the United States or Asia. Let’s put it this way: in the coming years and decades of uncertainty, imagine that we fall out with the United States, and that they cut off our access to their services. What would you be left with? Are you more dependent or resilient?
Values around software: free software vs. proprietary software. For the Free Software Foundation, “free software” means software that respects the freedom of users. Basically, it means that users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, modify, and improve that software. Read more about it.
Learn how to host your own web services
Hosting your content or depending on a platform: what’s the difference?
The fundamental difference is who has power over your content? Who has the power to remove it, for example, and in what case:
|If you host your content||If you depend on a closed platform|
|The law||The law|
|Terms and conditions of your host5||The general terms and conditions of use of the platform (often dictated by the country of origin)|
|The economic, political and ideological interests of the platform|
|Government pressure on the platform|
|Mass posting of your content by political opponents or activists|
|A poorly programmed robot (bot)|
|A moderator in a bad mood|
|The closing of the platform|
What services can be hosted on the web?
By itself, all the services you use are hosted on the web. But depending on a single platform (Facebook, Google, Flickr, etc.) does not allow you to create your own space on the web. Some examples of services you can host or have hosted:
- Blog : WordPress, Drupal, Dotclear, Joomla, Drupal, Hugo, etc.
- Image Gallery: Koken, Piwigo
- Wiki: Mediawiki, Dokuwiki (this is the case of this wiki)
- Cloud : Nextcloud or Owncloud
- Office suite: OnlyOffice or Collabora
- Slack: Mattermost or Rocketchat
- Video conferencing: Jitsi or Big Blue Button
- Instant messaging: Element, Signal or Telegram
- Podcast: Castopod
Open source and/or alternative service providers?
When we talk about free and/or alternative hosting services, we have to talk about CHATONS, the Collectif des Hébergeurs Alternatifs, Transparents, Ouverts, Neutres et Solidaires. More info on their site.
Some particularly committed hosts (subjective and not exhaustive list):
- Free by IndieHosters
- Framaligue : the offer of the Ligue de l’enseignement for associations
- Apps.education: a platform of free tools for teachers
Reinventing web exploration
Take back control of the web by rediscovering the pleasure of exploration
Dominique Boullier, in his essential sociology of the digital world, lists a certain number of personal orientation practices which are as many possibilities to change one’s way of exploring and consuming the web. I take them up in my own way:
- Go back to serendipity, let yourself be carried away by the links. This remains an effective method of exploration and research, in addition to being an invitation to (virtual) travel.
- Create your own habits thanks to the favorites and bookmarks offered by each Internet browser.
- Search in categories of a directory or a structured site, like Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a perfect site for serendipity. You could spend hours jumping from link to link. And every Wikipedia article has a series of external links.
- Trust the recommendations of your virtual communities and their curations (on Delicious, Scoopit, Seenthis, or on social networks). But beware of your confirmation bias!
Taking back control of our information
There are many ways to regain control of our access to information, and to become less dependent on infomercials to build our worldview. Here are a few ways:
- If you don’t convert to RSS feeds (although this doesn’t require any special skills), you can still use the
Get information on the Internet
Public debate and the dissemination of ideas can no longer be separated from digital technology and the Internet. Understanding the mechanisms of information creation on the Internet, knowing how to search, sort, cross-reference and verify information, but also contributing to the online debate are essential skills to take one’s place as a citizen today.
Protecting your privacy and security
- Privacy Tools (EN) : PrivacyTools provides services, tools and knowledge to protect your privacy against global mass surveillance.
- switching.software (EN): Ethical alternatives to big software, easy to use and mindful of privacy issues 🙂
- Gofoss: Embrace free and open source software, protect your privacy, control your data.
- Prism Break: Refuse data surveillance programs like PRISM, XKeyscore and Tempora.
- Digital hygiene
- Nothing2hide: Digital protection guide
Find alternative software and services
There are several very complete catalogs to find alternative software and services. Here are some of them.
Catalogs of alternative software and services
- Framalibre (FR) : one of the first free directories, maintained by the Framasoft association.
- Correspondence between free software and proprietary software (FR): This article lists alternative free software choices that offer functionality close to well-established proprietary software in their field of application. This list is not exhaustive.
- Ethical alternatives : On Herminien’s wiki, lots of ethical alternatives that the author could test and use himself.
- CHATONS: The collective aims to bring together structures offering free, ethical and decentralized online services to allow users⋅ices to quickly find alternatives that respect their data and privacy to the services offered by GAFAM
- switching.software: Ethical alternatives to big software that are easy to use and care about privacy issues
- Privacy Tools: PrivacyTools offers services, tools and knowledge to protect your privacy from mass surveillance devices.
My own selection of digital alternatives
There are millions of alternatives, but if you want to go fast, I offer you a personal selection. I assume that you are starting from scratch, so I only list mainstream alternatives.
All these alternatives correspond to my idea of user-friendly digital: a fair price, software that does not make you dependent: cross-platform, interoperable, data can be exported easily, etc. Not all are perfect, but they come close.
This list is subjective and NOT exhaustive. If you’re looking for more in-depth stuff, dig around (starting with the catalogs mentioned above), explore and if needed, contact me!
We talk a lot about software alternatives, but hardware is an essential part of the digital thing. In terms of environmental impact, the manufacturing of our digital devices is by far the most polluting (carbon impact, energy and water use, not to mention human exploitation). Alternatives exist to offer more durable, repairable and ethical devices when possible.
- Fairphone: the reference repairable smartphone
- Shift: a modular smartphone made in Germany
- Framework: the repairable and modular computer
- Why : computers that can be completely dismantled and repaired
- Commown: the cooperative that rents computer equipment
Most of the time spent on your computer or smartphone is spent on a browser. Today, Google Chrome is hegemonic, and yet it happily plunders your browsing data to offer you ultra-targeted ads6. It’s time to change, isn’t it?
Frankly, you have no reason to keep a browser like Google Chrome that does not respect you…
The web used to be a space for exploration and serendipity… before the emergence of ever more sophisticated search engines. Of course, they make our search for information more efficient, but on the other hand, this efficiency is paid for in data on the one hand, and in the loss of a certain form of flanery on the other hand. Google is the hegemonic search engine of the web. What if we tried others?
And you can also browse the web… without a search engine! Go to Wikipedia for example, and let yourself go from click to click, see, explore!
Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, it’s convenient. But on the one hand, they don’t pay the artists well, on the other hand, they are algorithms inflated with your data, which more and more, recommend you music. What if we varied the sources?
- To find music: radio stations (starting with FIP, or the excellent Radio Browser site), blogs of music lovers, your friends, etc.
- To acquire music legally (without DRM): Bandcamp, Qobuz among others.
The email address is one of the pillars of your digital identity. It is advisable to have several, personal, professional, spam. But, in any case, this is a choice not to be made lightly, because your correspondence says a lot about you, and changing your host is not always easy.
All these CMS are free and open source when you host them. And in all cases, you can have them hosted by hosting companies (see above).
When you create your website and you want analytics, the reflex is… Google Analytics. However, once again, you are sending data to Google, it is less and less RGPD-compatible, it is greedy in processes on your site, in short, there are alternatives!
- Matomo (free and ultra simple extension on WordPress)
- Plausible (free if you host it)
- Statify (Free, GPL 3) (Directly from WordPress)
- Simple Web Analytics (Free, AGPL3)
You may also ask yourself if you really need data on your site. And if so, why and which ones?
- Signal (free, suggested donations)
- Telegram (free, suggested donations)
- Olvid (freemium with complete paid offer)
There are so many alternative sites, often under free license, often accessible for free (think donation), that do not offer advertising or advertorial content. Here are some of them:
- Free cooking : Contributory website without cookies, without tracking, and with recipes in CC BY
- Unsplash: beautiful photos in free license.
- Bibebook: 1,700 free books
A bit of a mess, but they deserve to be better known!
- Computer equipment rental : Commown
- Home food delivery : Coopcycle
- Carpooling : Mobicoop
- Mobile plan : Telecoop
- Rental accommodation : Fairbnb
To be followed, the unicorn movement which aims to propose alternative economic models and many of which offer digital services.
Keep getting informed, curious, debate, vote !
The big problem with digital technology is that it is still “sub-political” (the term is coined by Dominique Boullier), i.e. its implementation is not yet sufficiently subject to citizen debate or to a real democratic process. We could also extend this remark to other technologies.
Still, in this complex, exciting, and high-stakes world, it is important to stay informed, curious, debate and vote. Here are some resources to get you started.
Other resources on the same theme
- Royalty-free image, video and sound banks
- Open source services and open source service providers (article)
- To get back to the spirit of the web, let’s be (much) more curious! (article)
- Also read: Herminien’s wiki, a gold mine!
- Server410 : fresh articles and tutorials to get started